I still remember that arrival to Hong Kong. By Qantas. To Kai Tak airport. By the famous, the infamous, low-level, street-hugging, tree-scraping, approach, fly towards a checkerboard on the side of Lion Rock, and pull hard right, push hard down and land. Make sure you stop before splashing into the harbour. A fabulous, nerve-tingling landing.
We flew in at night, that August 1976, over Hong Kong Island. I looked down and thought "Emerald City". What a view! A kaleidoscope of neon, of flashing lights, a night-rainbow reflected in the carbon-black waters of Victoria harbour.
It was fabulous.
And has been over the years.
But not now. Not anymore. I wonder, will it ever be again?
Since that night-landing back in 1976, I have spent most of my life in this city. I went to University here, to finish off my studies in Mandarin, in 1977. Two of my children were born here, in 1977 and 1997. I've worked for the government here, I've owned a business here, employing 300 staff, with 12,000 students, have paid a bunch of tax and I've interacted with the government on rules and regs of our education industry. I speak and write the language. I have permanent residence. I’ve been every bit the local.
In that time, I came to love so much about Hong Kong. Not a lot of it well-known outside Hong Kong. Like: you can do wonderful hikes in the Country Parks all over Hong Kong, glorious mountain and field trails that make up nearly half of the areas of Hong Kong The sailing and fishing here is wonderful. The food choices are without peer. A galaxy of Michelin stars.
And then there's the connection to the rest of the world. I loved the fact that we could get to the airport from our front door in 17 minutes. Not 20 minutes, not 15 minutes. But 17 minutes. Because the road has zero traffic jams and the buses or taxis are always on time. So: leave house, take taxi or bus, arrive at airport in 17 minutes, through the Cathay Pacific check-in in three minutes, through the Immigration in 5 minutes more and at the Cathay Lounge in 5 minutes. All up, front door to lounge in 30 minutes. Lovely Cathay Lounge, with world-beating Dan-Dan Noodles, and choices of six wines, and first class service. For we privileged.
And then your flight is called, 3 hours to Tokyo or Seoul, or Hanoi, or 8 hours to Sydney or Delhi or Hawaii, or 10 hours to London or Rome, or LA. What can beat that? It's been great for all that time.
Well, no more. And I wonder if it ever will be again. Maybe we've lived through a golden era of travel and we'll never come back to the "old normal" again. Who knows?
Peter Kammerer, chief editor at the South China Morning Post, says much the same. Is it time for we gweilos, we privileged, we foreigners, we reprobates, to leave? I don't really want to, but may have to.
ADDED: Things to like about Hong Kong:
3. Cleanliness and care for the public space
4. The Country Parks
5. Our remaining Freedoms